With Light Rail Project Still Stalled, Tel Aviv Contemplates Rapid Bus Lines

Fast bus lines to temporarily improve the commute in the Tel Aviv area are being considered by the Transportation Ministry and the Netivei Ayalon company. The initiative took shape as the government continues to work to get Tel Aviv's stalled light rail project back on track.

Public tenders for the bus project are expected to be issued shortly, seeking bids from companies that can turn the plan into a reality. But differences between local authorities on the one hand and the finance and transportation ministries on the other over funding could delay its implementation.

Under the plan, special buses would be given priority - an approach called bus rapid transit or BRT. These buses would be able to activate traffic lights, expediting their movement. The project would also provide for special bus lanes and pedestrian islands where bus stops will be located.

Passengers would purchase tickets at vending machines situated at the bus stops, relieving bus drivers of the time-consuming task of ticketing. The bus lanes would run near the center of streets so that buses would not be delayed by parked cars, similar to the set up already in place in Jerusalem.

One advantage of the plan is that it does not require the same complex infrastructure that rail lines require, and is therefore not subject to the planning approval process required for rail lines. The bus models used would produce less pollution and at least a fifth of them would be hybrids that are powered in part by electricity.

Municipalities north of Tel Aviv in the Sharon region have expressed support for the project, but demand that the state cover most of the costs as well as address the loss of traffic lanes the new bus lines will occupy.

According to the plan, one line will go through Kfar Sava, Ra'anana and Herzliya, and join up with another line along the coast from Tel Aviv. A special rapid bus line is also slated to run from the Ra'anana junction to Tel Aviv via Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. The project calls for a route between Netanya and Tel Aviv along a special lane reserved for bus service. And a southern line would be created from Rehovot and Nes Tziona to Tel Aviv, via Rishon Letzion.

The finance director of the Herzliya Municipality, Golan Zrihan, said the cost of developing the system's infrastructure in the Sharon region will reach NIS 1 billion.

The Transportation Ministry released the following statement on the issue: "The tenders for running the rapid bus lines in the Sharon region will be published within the next several months. At this time, the project is in the planning stage and details have not been finalized. Sources at the Transportation Ministry expressed concern that if the new rapid bus system and the plans for a light rail network are both substantially delayed, increasing numbers of people will abandon public transportation, a trend that would be difficult to reverse."